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On the morning of 29th January, Pope Francis promulgated “Veritatis Gaudium”, the Apostolic Constitution  introducing new norms for ecclesiastical Universities and Faculties, including the Sophia University Institute. Alongside Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, the Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, and Vincenzo Zani, the Congregation Secretary, Sophia President Piero Coda, who is a member of the International Theological Commission, also attended the presentation conference at the Vatican Press Office. In the document, the Pontiff points out that, nearly forty years after the promulgation of the Apostolic Constitution “Sapientia Christiana”, by John Paul II in 1979, an updating of that Constitution is necessary and urgent.

“Veritatis Gaudium” is inspired by what Francis defines as the priority exigency today, especially in relation to Christian universities, which are called to “play a strategic role” in the renewal of the study system. Far from being self-referential or obscure, the document plainly outlines a mission that is truly a cultural revolution. “The theologian who is satisfied with his complete and conclusive thought is mediocre”, writes the Pope. The text is composed of two parts: in the first part, four background criteria are established. The second part contains general norms, special norms (i.e. only applying to Faculties of Theology, Canon Law and Philosophy) and final norms.

The fundamental criteria for a renewal and revival of the contribution of ecclesiastical studies” to the Church include, firstly, contemplating the mystery, which implies the need to live “the experience of the Church as a ‘mystique’ of living together, and to allow our hearts and minds to heed the cry of the earth’s poor”. Secondly, engaging in “wide-ranging dialogue, not as a mere tactical approach, but as an intrinsic requirement for experiencing in community the joy of the Truth and appreciating more fully its meaning and practical implications”. Indeed, an authentic culture of encounter promotes continuous dialogue among different cultures and urges for a “review of academic curricula”, too.

The third criterion, the Pope explains, is to offer “a variety of disciplines, not only within the system of ecclesiastical studies, ensuring cohesion together with flexibility, and organicity together with dynamism; but also in relation to the fragmented and often disintegrated panorama of contemporary university studies and to the pluralism – uncertain, conflicting and relativistic – of current beliefs and cultural options”. Finally, a fourth, essential criterion concerns the need for “‘networking’ between institutions (…) in order to set up suitable channels of cooperation also with academic institutions in the different countries and with those inspired by different cultural and religious traditions. At the same time, specialized centres of research need to be established in order to study the epochal issues affecting humanity today”.

“This is indeed a high-profile policy document that is destined to produce a long-term impact on ecclesiastical studies and, more generally, on Christian-inspired cultural engagement”, said Piero Coda. “Pope Francis has recognised that the change of era we are experiencing today calls for appropriate action, and he has given us the reference points for developing wide-ranging yet at the same time concrete and focused academic projects”. He then quoted Edgar Morin: “Today, the crucial priority is to ‘rethink thought’: its nature, its forms, its objectives, the way it is transmitted, its power to shape the ethos and the way we look at social and environmental challenges”.

The document is thus a powerful invitation to renewal for Christian-inspired cultural institutions like Sophia, all of which are defined by Pope Francis as “a sort of providential laboratory” for developing “leadership capable of striking out on new paths”, starting from today.

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